New airport security lane design will test automation to move bins, speed processing

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A new lane while it was under construction in early May. The stations on the left allow five different travelers to load bins, each at their own pace. After loading a bin, the traveler pushes the bin onto the automated conveyor system on the right, which will shuttle the bin to the X-ray machine. The passenger can then walk through screening without waiting for slower passengers in front to finish loading bins. John Spink / AJC

With extremely long airport security lines frustrating travelers, could an automated system to move bins help to speed screening and shorten wait times at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport?

That’s what Transportation Security Administration and Delta Air Lines officials plan to test in a few weeks when they unveil two newly-designed security lanes that will feature RFID (radio frequency identification) technology.

The three-week closure of the South security checkpoint during the construction has generated lines snaking through the domestic terminal atrium and baggage claim. Wait times were more than an hour long during busy periods Monday morning.

Airport officials hope the two new lanes to open May 24 at the South security checkpoint will bring some promise of a better system that can ease bottlenecks in the security screening process.

One choke-point occurs when travelers stop up the line while sorting through their pockets or countless items in their suitcase to pull out liquids or laptops or other items.

To address that issue, the two newly designed lanes will each have five stations for five different passengers to load bins at the same time — eliminating the need to wait for a passenger in front of you to finish loading a bin.

Lane 2

This new lane is under construction. The stations on the left allow five different travelers to load bins, each at their own pace. After loading a bin, the traveler pushes the bin onto the automated conveyor system on the right, which will shuttle the bin to the X-ray machine. The passenger can then walk through screening without waiting for slower passengers in front to finish loading bins. John Spink / AJC

After loading a bin, the passenger would push it directly onto an automated conveyor system that shuttles the bin to the X-ray machine. The passenger then walks through screening.

“By having automation at the checkpoint, you should have some time savings,” said TSA spokesman Mark Howell. The new design is modeled after systems used at London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.

If a suspicious item turns up during X-ray screening, the bin is automatically routed to a separate conveyor via an RFID tag on the bin. A TSA officer would then check the items in the bin.

Once retrieving belongings from their bins, passengers drop the empty bins onto a lower-level conveyor system that bring the bins back to the beginning of the lane. The system, similar to a bowling ball return, eliminates the need for TSA agents to manually carry bins from the end of the lane to the front of the lane.

Lane 1

At the end of the security lane, this is the location to drop bins onto a lower-level automated conveyor system that will move bins back to the beginning of the checkpoint lane for us by other travelers. John Spink / AJC

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